Accountability, Communication, Conflict Resolution, Culture – Organisational, Goal Setting, Productivity

Team Covenant Part 1: What it Is and Why it Matters

Whether it’s an employment context, sporting group, volunteer organization or a faith community, wherever people work together to pursue a common goal or cause, results and relationships are enhanced with a covenant that is owned by the team. So what is a team covenant and how is it different from a team agreement or contract?

Team contracts and agreements tend to be rule-based outlining the expectations and behaviours required by the relevant parties – possibly even enforceable by penalties or by law. However, team covenants are relationally grounded, expressive of relevant core universal values (such as respect, fairness, kindness, honesty, and collaboration) and developed and owned by both team members and team leaders. In addition, they are designed to empower a team to fulfil its role in delivering outcomes that reflect the organization’s missional DNA – its foundational purpose, basic beliefs, core values and motivational vision.

At the same time, similar to team contracts and agreements, team covenants should include a brief description of the team’s role, function and purpose and, once owned, be signed by the leader and each team member.

William Kahn, Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Boston University, has identified three psychological elements that enable people to harness their ‘full self’ in their work. I contend those same three factors also apply in people’s other life contexts and roles. Those factors are:

  1. Meaningfulness – the extent to which a person finds that what they do provides sufficient meaning to both themselves and others to be satisfying enough to give themselves fully to it.
  2. Safety – the extent to which a person feels safe enough to be fully engaged without fear of risking negative consequences.
  3. Availability  – the extent to which a person feels physically and psychologically able to harness their ‘full self’ at this particular time.

Kahn’s research highlights the critical importance of trust in getting the best from workers and volunteers. As Patrick Lencioni, consultant and author of ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ asserts, “teamwork begins by building trust’. Similarly trust is the foundation for creating a successful team covenant. And that means team covenants must be created by team members and team leaders working together. For that reason I recommend that teams don’t start developing a covenant until there is a discernible level of positive trust among members themselves and particularly between members and leader. In Part 2 I’ll outline my suggested steps for how to develop a team covenant.

But before that it’s helpful to appreciate the value and potential benefits of a team covenant:

Benefits

  1. Enhances individual and team engagement and accountability– A covenant encourages and inspires the team leader and members to take personal accountability for helping the team as a whole to function as a harmonious and effective unit.
  2. Focuses energy to achieve results – Team covenants can function as an objective reminder of what the team overall and its individual members have committed to. As such they serve to help everyone focus their skills and energies to achieve identified desired outcomes.
  3. Facilitates creative conflict – Because covenants help establish and maintain a vital and trusting team environment potential sources of conflict can be surfaced and addressed in safety without unhelpful confrontation or embarrassment. Creative conflict management strengthens relationships, alternative perspectives are listened to respectfully, and enhances mutual understanding. Perhaps most importantly, successful navigation of an embryonic conflict strengthens the level of safety for team members and hence they are free to bring their ‘full selves’ to their work.
  4. Improves problem solving – With the energies released through the above three points creative problem solving is much more likely.
  5. Strengthens the team – As a result of all this teams build a stronger sense of community with turnover and absenteeism usually significantly reduced.  

As stated, Part 2 of this article will outline recommended steps to develop a covenant that is owned by the team.

Graham Beattie

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